When a Phone Call is Better Than Email
I understand it’s 2019. But just because technology keeps advancing doesn’t mean we still can’t value the simple things like … talking to one another.
I have two teenage daughters. The only times their phones are not in their hands are either when they’re sleeping or eating (well, maybe most of the time).
They also prefer to text with their friends, probably 80–90% of the time versus talking or face-timing. Now I don’t have a particular problem with texting except for when the topic gets emotional, or when there is planning with more than two people involved.
Invariably, I learn that these situations with my daughter start to escalate as the text messaging gets longer, and more emotional resulting in misunderstandings. Besides my constant nudging (ok — begging) to my one daughter to just pick up the phone and call, these occurrences continue to happen.
My daughter can avoid these situations with a single phone call where the tone of her voice, intonation, word choice can make all the difference. In other words, the phone makes you more empathetic.
I think similar reasoning applies to email, whether it’s in a professional work setting or a personal correspondence.
I had a recent situation come up with a person asking a question about a particular product we offer. Having experienced this question before, I knew that I needed more information before I could answer the question fully and correctly. So I asked if we could set aside some time … maybe 15 minutes so that I can ascertain some more details and then provide answers to her most likely on the same call.
Unfortunately, the person responded via email with an added question that made it even more confusing to answer. This exchange continued another three times with each email exchange asking more questions.
It finally took three days to pass before the person agreed to hop on a call as it was clear that the person’s deadline to obtain answers was approaching. Our conversation lasted just under 15 minutes and provided the person with answers and additional information gleaned from the discussions we had.
Unfortunately, this situation is not an anomaly. It happens more often than one would think.
There are many reasons and advantages to using email/ text. However, I find that people tend over-use written mediums for communications when talking via phone or face to face is a better and more effective choice.
Based on my own experience both personally and professionally, below are the main reasons when a phone call works better than an email or text for a variety of reasons, but most importantly, to maintain good personal and professional relationships.
1. When a Topic is Sensitive
For those situations where emotions are high, a phone is the best method to discuss the issue at hand. The sound of a friendly, honest, or empathetic voice shows the other party that you care enough to work through the circumstances.
Whether it’s an apology, rectifying miscommunication or any other sensitive topic, a phone conversation works best.
2. When the Topic is Complicated
There are times when a complex subject arises. To try and explain things by email takes a lot more time and extra effort to type the many responses and replies.
A conversation over the phone is more efficient as you engage in real time. This way, questions and answers are shared instantaneously.
3. When Answering a lot of Questions
Inevitably, circumstances emerge where there is a need to answer plenty of questions. The best way to handle this is to have a real-time two-way dialogue whether it’s with one person or several.
Trying to handle this with email leads to time delays and possible misinterpretation as each party waits for responses and replies.
4. When an Immediate Response is Required
Urgent matters present themselves often. Waiting for an email response in these circumstances is not practical or wise.
The best way to address time-critical cases is to have a direct phone call discussion so that there is no room for any time delays.
5. When the Need to Discuss a Personal Topic
Email is not appropriate for topics that deal with the human side of things.
If a personal situation arises, the most compassionate way to relate to another person is face to face communication. The second-best way is by phone.
Thus, email is not a consideration.
6. When you Delayed a Response for Too Long (a.k.a. Dropped the Ball!)
Since the email sent to you with a question or action item is probably still sitting in your inbox, the best way to overcome this is to pick up the phone and beg for forgiveness, apologize, grovel, or all the above!
Hopefully, the person on the other side of the phone will understand and making the call will most likely help the situation and get the ball rolling on rectifying it.
Finally, I leave the last thought to Seth Horowitz, a well known auditory neuroscientist. He stated the following in an article in Entrepreneur:
“We think about ourselves as being the new smartest rulers of the planet, but our ears have evolved, and a basic brain circuitry of hearing has evolved over 400 million years, and a lot of it centered on hearing the sound of your own species. That’s the most important signal, even if you can’t see them. Hearing evolved as your alarm system, because we’re diurnal, we don’t see well at night, but our hearing is running all through the darkness and even when we are asleep. A sound, even without a visual tie to it, is very important to us. We’ve evolved to listen to other people talk.”
So, the bottom line is to follow the above guidelines and make the call when it’s appropriate.
Continue to leverage email as a communication medium as it is an essential and practical method to conduct business and personal affairs.
The key is to know when to balance both oral and written communication in the ways that best serve the human and non-human aspects of life. By doing so, you increase the overall effectiveness of your communication.